THIS WEEK’S READS PONDER THE FUTURE OF ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE BY REWRITING HISTORY AND ENCOURAGE THE NEXT GENERATION TO SAVE OUR ANIMALS
MACHINES LIKE ME Ian Mcewan JONATHAN CAPE, $32.99
British author Ian Mcewan’s new book is set against a somewhat disorienting revision of his country’s history. It is 1982 and in a highly computer-savvy 20th century Margaret Thatcher has gone to war over the Falklands and lost; thousands have been killed and she has resigned, making way for Tony Benn who will promptly take Britain out of the Common Market; when he is killed in his Brighton hotel by an IRA bomb, however, Dennis Healey will reverse his decision and take the country back in again. Alan Turing is alive in his 70s, forging ahead with a range of advances on the artificial intelligence front. Lazy, self-centred Charlie Friend spends his legacy on one of the first 25 artificial humans; Turing has bought another. Missing out on one of the 13 Eves, Charlie has to be content with an Adam who looks “like a docker from the Bosphorus”, but shows a remarkably human tendency to independent thought. Mcewan asks some fundamental questions not so much about robots as about ourselves: What is it that makes us human?
CAVAN STATION Nicola Crichton-brown HARPERCOLLINS, $50
This lavishly illustrated book is a history of Cavan Station near Yass, New South Wales. After European settlement, the unique landscape of the area was sighted by explorers Hume and Hovel on their 1824 expedition from Sydney to Port Phillip Bay in search of grazing land. At the time, Australia was being transformed from a dumping ground for convicts to a breeding ground for the world’s finest wool. In 1834, the “Cavan run” was bought by William Riley, son of Alexander Riley, who had done much to promote the saxon merino as the ideal breed for Australian conditions. The younger Riley set about commercialising wool production in the area. Other owners followed and through the devastation and preservation of the natural environment, boom times and depression, the story of Cavan Station became, in a wider sense, the story of the Australian wool industry.
THE PARADE Dave Eggers HAMISH HAMILTON, $35
Prolific and public-spirited Dave Eggers’s eighth novel is more like a rather formal, read-at-asitting novella describing the making of a road connecting the two halves of a recently wartorn country. For security reasons the foreign contractors are numbered rather than named: dour, work-obsessed Four controls the RS-80, the magnificent modern road-making machine; sociable Nine rides the quad bike clearing obstructions and locals out of the machine’s way. When Nine’s careless gregariousness causes him to sicken, help comes in the persons of an enterprising pair of locals. Under their generous influence, Four unbends a fraction while Nine takes on some of Four’s sense of responsibility. In spite of Nine’s dereliction the road is finished in time for the planned unifying parade from the rural south to the capital in the north. Four admires his handiwork from the plane bearing him home — and hence is witness as we are to what readers must decide for themselves to see as random tragedy or the rankest cynicism.
BUCKLEY’S UNEXPECTED ADVENTURE Dion Summergreene SELF-PUBLISHED, $9.99
The heartfelt debut from Gold Coast art director and illustrator Dion Summergreene spotlights animal conservation for the next generation. In this middle-grade fiction novel, kids are taken on an international journey through the eyes of man’s best friend, allowing them to step into the world of a Queensland detector dog protecting Australia’s borders and beyond. Buckley is obedient, loyal and highly efficient at sniffing out prohibited goods. One day he is confronted by a heartbreaking find: a shipment of illegally smuggled animals. Determined to put a stop to more animals suffering at the hands of greedy criminals, he teams up with his best friend, a charismatic Californian mouse named Bo, and survivor, Ciara the chameleon, and heads overseas in search of the mastermind behind the animal smuggling syndicate. With cheeky, vividly drawn characters and an engaging flow, this tale’s heart is always in the right place.